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UWF enrollment fiasco brings about important questions

The University of West Florida is in a state of constant change. As a student and alum since 2006, I can honestly say that this institution is remarkably different from my freshman orientation in August 2006.

New buildings have been constructed to accommodate the academic and personal needs of students. New faculty members and professional staff have been brought on board to help UWF grow and flourish.

Our baseball and women’s volleyball programs have brought NCAA Division II national championships to the university, increasing the prestige of our athletic program.

However, without a doubt, the most important addition to the institution has been the thousands of students that join our institution every year.

Four years ago, the total enrollment number at UWF consisted of 10,491 students. Since that academic year, the enrollment at UWF has increased over 20 percent, with a total enrollment of 12,651 students in the 2012-2013 academic year.

The consistent increase in enrollment over the past four years should indicate that our institution is succeeding in providing students with a top-notch, high-quality education.

Recent information included in the incendiary article written by Rob Johnson and published by the Pensacola News Journal on April 13, 2013 brings much of the rhetoric regarding growth and success into question.

The article brings up several alarming statistics, most of which indicate a severe decline in general admissions standards for students entering UWF as freshman.

Of the incoming freshman for the 2008-2009 academic year, 15.8 percent were in the top tenth percentile of their high school graduating class while 18.8 percent were in the bottom half of their high school graduating class. 36 percent had a high school GPA of 3.75 or higher.

Meanwhile, only 9.4 percent of the 2012-2013 freshman class was in the top tenth percentile of their high school graduating class while 24 percent were in the bottom half of their graduating class. 23.76 percent had a high school GPA of 3.75 or higher.

Based on these numbers, there seems to be an established trend regarding enrollment: academic standards are not as important as the butts in the seats.

There are some serious questions that need to be answered by the heads of our institution regarding the enrollment numbers.

Can UWF maintain these enrollment numbers?

Will the institution be able to provide the support services necessary for the entire student body to succeed as college students and ultimately provide meaningful contributions to the community?

One the most telling revelations in Johnson’s article consisted of a reporter informing Bense of the consistent trend of lower admissions standards since she became president. Dr. Bense told the reporter she was unaware of the drop in the new students’ academic prowess and had not seen or even been made aware of the corresponding figures.

This downward trend of academic prowess for incoming students didn’t just happen overnight. There has been a steady decline for the entirety of Bense’s tenure as UWF president.

Bense’s response demonstrates a substantial disconnect between Bense and the UWF student body.

How does she not know about this trend?

With state government support for higher education being cut on a yearly basis in Florida, institutions across the state are relying more and more on enrollment numbers, and the resulting tuition dollars, to support institutional operations.

Considering the institution’s growing dependence on tuition dollars, the corresponding increase in enrollment and decrease in admissions standards, how does the institution view its students?

Are we young minds seeking preparation to enter society and make a meaningful contribution?

Or, are we a tuition and fee-generating commodity brought in to maintain the proposed growth and expansion of the institution?

The president of the university should know about these admissions trends. The president of the university needs to care about these admissions trends.

Hoisting football helmets and breaking ground on new buildings are exciting examples of institutional change.

However, this is still an institution of higher education and the provision of quality education should always be the priority.

Let us not forget this.

John Strickland
Opinions Editor

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